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Robert Harbin (February 14, 1909 - January 12, 1978) was a British magician and writer born Ned Williams in Balfour, South Africa. He is noted as the inventor of a number of classic illusions, including the Zig Zag Girl. He also became an authority on origami.
The young Ned Williams first got interested in magic after an unknown ex-serviceman appeared at his school with a magic show later described as "rather poor". Williams came to London at the age of 20 and began by working in the magic department of Gamages toy shop. He began performing in music halls under the title "Ned Williams, the Boy Magician from South Africa". By 1932 he was appearing in the Maskelyne's Mysteries magic show in various London theaters.
He was the first British illusionist to move from stage performing to television, appearing in the BBC TV show Variety in 1937 and in his own show which began in 1940.
He developed a number of new tricks, including the Neon Light and the now ubiquitous Zig Zag Girl (1953). His lesser know inventions include the Aztec Lady.
Much of his inventive genius was put into written form and he is known as one of the most prodigious authors on the subject of magical effects. However, although Harbin was brilliantly creative in the field of magic he was not a particularly good writer and his friend and associate Eric C Lewis has stated that many of Harbin's titles were ghost written for him.
In about 1952 Harbin appeared in a minor part as a magician in the film The Limping Man, produced by Cy Enfield. In 1953, Harbin and a friend of Enfield's, Gershon Legman (1917-1999), discovered a common interest in the Japanese art of paper-folding. Harbin wrote many books on the subject, beginning with Paper Magic (illustrated by the young art student, the Australian Rolf Harris who in the middle of the project, caught the origami idea and contributed several intricate models himself) in 1965, and was the first President of the British Origami Society. He was the first Westerner to use the word origami for this art-form. He also presented a series of origami programs for ITV in its "Look-In" shows for children in the 1970s.
His grave is at Golders Green Crematorium in London.
- Something New in Magic, Davenport, (1929) as Ned Williams
- Psychic Vision, Davenport, 1930
- Six Card Creations, Davenport, (1930) as Ned Williams
- Demon Magic, Davenport, (1938)
- How to Be a Wizard, Oldbourne, (1957), ISBN B0000CJUT3
- How to Be a Conjuror, Sphere, (1968), ISBN 0-7221-4322-2
- The Magic of Robert Harbin, C.W. Mole and Sons, (1970) - This was published with a run of only 500 copies. After the run, Robert Harbin had the plates destroyed. This book is very rare and has gone for upwards of $2,000 on eBay.
- Magic (Illustrated Teach Yourself), Knight, (1976), ISBN 0-340-20502-4
- Magic (Illustrated Teach yourself), Treasure, (1983), ISBN 0-907812-39-2
- The Harbin Book, M. Breese, (1983), ISBN 0-947533-00-1
- Harbincadabra, brainwaves and brainstorms of Robert Harbin (1979) [i.e. N. Williams]: From the pages of Abracadabra, 1947-1965, R. Harbin
- Have Fun with Origami, Severn Ho., 1977, ISBN 0-7278-0225-9
- Have Fun with Origami, ITV, 1975, ISBN 0-900727-26-8
- More Origami, Hodder, 1971, ISBN 0-340-15384-9
- New Adventures in Origami, 1982, Harper & Row, ISBN 0-06-463555-4
- Origami: Art of Paper Folding, Coronet, 1969, ISBN 0-340-10902-5
- Origami: Art of Paper Folding, Coronet Books/Hodder, 1972, ISBN 0-340-16655-X
- Origami: The Art of Paperfolding, HarperPerennial, 1992, ISBN 0-06-092269-9
- Origami: Art of Paper Folding (Illustrated Teach Yourself), Picture Knight, 1975, ISBN 0-340-19381-6
- Origami: Art of Paper Folding (Coronet Books), Hodder Headline Australia, 1977, ISBN 0-340-21822-3
- Origami Step by Step, Hamlyn, 1974, ISBN 0-600-38109-9
- Origami (Teach Yourself), NTC Publishing, 1992, ISBN 0-8442-3935-6
- Origami A/H, Hodder Arnold, 1976, ISBN 0-340-27950-8
- Secrets of Origami: The Japanese Art of Paper Folding, Dover, 1997, ISBN 0-486-29707-1
- Secrets of Origami, old and new: The Japanese art of paper-folding, Oldbourne, 1964, ISBN B0000CM4YW
- Teach Yourself Origami, Teach Yourself Books, 2003, ISBN 0-07-141979-9
- Teach Yourself Origami, Hodder, 1968, ISBN 0-340-05972-9; 1992 reprint ISBN 0-340-56527-6; 2003 reprint ISBN 0-340-86008-1
- Origami: Art of Paper Folding (Teach Yourself), Hodder, 1973, ISBN 0-340-16646-0
- Paper Folding Fun, Oldbourne, 1960, ISBN B0000CKUYQ
- Paper Magic, Oldbourne, ISBN 0-356-01013-9
- Paper Magic: The art of paper folding, Oldbourne, 1956, ISBN B0000CJG8R
- Secrets of Origami, Octopus, 1972, ISBN 0-7064-0005-4
- Waddington's Family Card Games, Elm Tree, 1972, ISBN 0-241-02111-1
- Waddington's Family Card Games, Pan, 1974, ISBN 0-330-23892-2
- Party Lines, Oldbourne, 1963, ISBN B0000CLQIH
- Instant Memory: The Way to Success, Corgi, 1968, ISBN 0-552-06091-7
- Smith, Eric C. Introduction to Genius of Robert Harbin quoted at The Magic Depot. Aaron Smith.
- The Times, "Obituaries", 13 Jan 1978, p.16, col.F
- The Times, "Varieties, &c.", 9 Mar 1932, p.10, col. E
- The Times, "Broadcasting", 9 Feb 1937, p.9, col. A
- Eric C. Lewis, The genius of Robert Harbin: A personal biography, Mike Caveney's Magic Words (1997), ISBN 0-915-18130-8